By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
By Falyn Freyman
By Hans Morgenstern
"My dad used to explain that life is like a battery," Williams says. "You can't work a battery with two negatives or two positives. You need both to make it work. [My mom] knows about that song and when people ask her, she says she knows her son and he's just making good music."
The limo arrives in Liberty City and a large crowd is gathered at the corner of MLK Boulevard and NW Seventeenth Avenue. The performance schedule for this festival is running a little late, so Williams and his crew grab Cuban sandwiches and sodas at a corner store. As he mingles with the movers and shakers backstage, his compact profile is dwarfed by massive dudes in oversize camo jackets and jerseys, dreadlocks exploding off their heads. His diminutive size and around-the-way demeanor render him instantly likable and easily approachable.
The crowd is mostly young black women here to see the main act, Miami rapper Pitbull. Williams and his crew take the stage as the preheadliners, and the audience -- at least those paying attention -- begins to sway. He goes into "Givin' It Up," a sort of anti-bling love song about making sacrifices for his woman's love. "Now the chronic, I ain't even gonna lie/I love it," he sings. "But I put it aside for you, you're worth it/You know what, I'll even stop cursing/Listen, I'll give up the streets and start working."
A crowd of well-wishers is waiting backstage as Williams and the band make their exit. One of the fans is Betty Wright, an original South Florida soul sister and the mother of Asher Williams, one of Williams's backup singers (no relation).
"It's got that throwback feeling," she says of his music. "Throwback, not throwaway." She looks around at the crowd gathered, kids looking for autographs, friends saying hello. "He's not phased by any of [the success] right now, and if he can stay that way, there's nowhere to go but up."
He gets back in the limo, and it pulls away from the crowd and edges onto NW 62nd Street. The sidewalks are lined with people, families barbecuing in the warm evening twilight, teenagers hanging in packs on the corners. A single file of gleaming bubble gum-colored Impalas creeps past, while a steady stream of young guys roars by on motocross bikes, go-carts, crotch rockets, pocket bikes, and scooters. It's a wild scene, but true to Betty Wright's remark, the limo riders gaze out the windows with mild interest.
"It's funny because it's his day," Williams says. "Martin Luther King is definitely one of my heroes, watching what he did and where he came from. He definitely inspired me to know whatever I wanna do, I can do it. It's all about believing, achieving, and succeeding."
On the radio, a 99 Jamz DJ gives a shout out from the party he has just left, name-checking Betty Wright, thanking Pitbull, and giving props to Urban Mystic for rocking the crowd. The group in the limo laughs a little, turns up the stereo, and bumps it all the way back to Fort Lauderdale.